Sec.1 - Overview & Intro | Sec. 2 -
Push Phase Muscles |
Sec. 3 - Swing Phase Muscles | Sec. 4 -
Return Phase Muscles
Lessons to Improve Your Athletic Performance
Lesson I – The Running Process
Identify and Properly Train the Correct Muscles to Improve Your Sprint Speed
Section 2 – Muscles and Training Of The Push Phase
The Push Phase
As we mentioned in The Running Process Overview, many people associate the push phase with the first few steps at the start of the race, where your body is lowest to the ground, as in coming out of the starting blocks, and where this phase is most dominant.
However, the push phase, just like the other two phases, occurs throughout the entire running process even while your body is upright. Since your body is upright for most of the time and distance you spend running, the push phase will be addressed while your body is in this upright position.
Also, since we know the sequence of the running process is: Push phase > Swing phase > Return phase > Push phase > Swing Phase > Return Phase etc. etc. etc., we will pick up our discussion of the push phase somewhere, and at no particular distance, in a given race.
The push phase begins when the thigh of the foot touching the ground is perpendicular to the ground. It ends when the toes of this foot have just left the ground behind you. See the figures below for the right leg:
Notice the right thigh/hip is in extension throughout the entire push phase
Figure 1 – Start of Push Phase
Figure 2 – Middle of Push Phase
Figure 3 – End of Push Phase
This is the push phase of running in its most basic form.
The Muscles Involved in the Push Phase:
1) Knee Extensors. A.K.A. Leg Extensors. Commonly known as the Quadriceps. These include rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius. These muscles provide for leg extension at the knee. (The rectus femoris also provides for thigh/hip flexion, however, thigh flexion is not part of the push phase, but rather the swing phase.)
2) Thigh/hip extensor muscles. These include your gluteus maximus muscle, and your hamstrings. Most people associate the hamstrings strictly with flexing the leg behind the thigh, however, the hamstrings are also very powerful thigh/hip extensors. The hamstrings involved in thigh/hip extension are: semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and the long head of the biceps femoris. Note: the short head of the biceps femoris does not act to extend the hip/thigh.
3) Ankle flexors. AKA Foot flexors. Commonly known as the calf muscles. These include the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles. These provide plantarflexion of the foot.
Figure 1 – Quadriceps
Figure 2 – Thigh/Hip Extensors
Figure 3 – Calf Muscles
These Muscles Mistakenly Get The Most Attention In Many Training Programs
Most of one’s training, and perhaps your current training, (with respect to at least trying to increase your running speed), primarily involves various exercises designed to increase the muscular strength within these muscle groups that make up the push phase. Most training programs puts less emphasis on the muscles of the other two phases.
This is due, in part, for several reasons:
First, there tends to be a disproportionate amount of emphasis (training methods, running techniques, etc.) placed on increasing one’s running speed during the first few steps in a race by athletic trainers and coaches. This is where your body position is lowest to the ground and where the Push Phase dominates the other two phases.
The majority of coaches will teach the importance of an athlete to stay as low as possible for as long as possible at the start of the race. This is done to take advantage of the superior strength of the quadriceps muscle which drives the push phase.
There is nothing wrong with trying to improve the first few steps in a running race, I for one, advocate this. However, once your body becomes upright, like the majority of most sports activities involved during football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, etc, and like the majority of time and distance spent in a 40 yard dash, 100 meter dash etc., the push phase no longer dominates the running process (this is because the leg and thigh are no longer flexed as much as they were in the beginning), but rather, gives way and is reduced to equal importance to the Swing Phase and Return/Pull Phase of running.
Let’s repeat that:
“Once your body is upright, the push phase no longer dominates the running process and becomes equal in importance to the Swing Phase which is equal in importance to the Return/Pull Phase.”
Just because the Push Phase provides the initial momentum to start forward movement, does not mean that is the most important phase for achieving and maintaining top running speed.
Another reason why there seems to be an over-emphasis placed on improving the Push Phase of running is because the majority of exercise equipment found in your typical gym is designed around strengthening the muscles involved in the Push Phase only.
Below are some of these pieces of equipment that you would typically find in the gym as well as some other exercises that you might do for your lower extremities:
Leg Press: Quadriceps, Hip extensors (includes hamstrings and gluteus maximus)
Squats: Quads and Thigh/Hip extensors
Leg extensions: Quadriceps muscles
Leg curls: Hamstrings
Lunges: Quads, Hamstrings
Toe raises: Calf muscles
That’s about it. And when you look at the muscles involved, it’s easy to see why many people believe that sprinting is all about the quadriceps muscles. They dominate the activity these machines are designed around. But, while the quadriceps muscles are important, there are other, equally important muscle groups, that play just as much of a significant role in the running process that we will discuss in the next two sections.
Now, what about running down a field with a weighted sled attached to your waist or a parachute? Which phase(s) of running do these affect? They too primarily affect the Push Phase of running and to a lesser extent, the Return Phase. Same goes for the popular plyometric routine of jumping up and down off of boxes – Push Phase again. Also, which muscle group do you think gets the most exercise during these exercises? You guessed it, the quads.
Now, I am all for doing these exercises. I think no training would be complete without incorporating some, if not all of them. But my guess is, if you have tried these types of exercises and were hoping to see some marked improvement in your running speed, you probably were a little disappointed with the results. This is because these exercises train the same muscle groups as do the machines and other exercises you are already doing at the gym. In essence, your body is already maxed out with respect to what these exercises can give you in terms of running speed.
On top of that, when you consider that most of these activities affect only the push phase of running, which makes up 1/3 of the running process, you are essentially leaving 2/3’s of the muscle groups involved in sprinting virtually untouched or untrained. That’s a significant amount of training to leave on the table.
So what does all of this mean? It means that if you go to the gym and train to become faster, and, if you head out to a ball field and run sprints with a sled or parachute, you may leave with a false sense of security that you are doing all you can to help make yourself a faster athlete.
But, there is plenty of hope for you and that’s what we will be talking about in the next two sections of the running process.
Section 1 - General Overview and Introduction
Section 2 - Muscles and training of the Push Phase
Section 3 - Muscles and training of the Swing Phase
Section 4 - Muscles and training of the Return Phase